Maybe you’ve thought about trying out exercises for seniors with an exercise ball. But which ball should you choose? There are stability balls you can sit on, small balls, weighted medicine balls, even a half ball called a Bosu. Here’s a guide to what kind of balls are available and some of the exercises they’re useful for.
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Keep in Mind:
Before starting any new exercise(s), we strongly recommend you follow the advice of the National Institute on Aging and consult your doctor.
Benefits of Ball Exercises for Seniors
You may not have the room for a home gym, but for a fraction of that expense you can buy several exercise balls. And you can still get some of the muscle-building benefits that gym equipment provides. These ball exercises are particularly good for the “core” muscles. This can improve posture and decrease back pain, which leads to better function in the shoulders, arms and other parts of the body. Ball exercises, particularly the large ball exercises, do wonders for your balance.
A ball exercise routine is mentally stimulating as well! Many seniors find a lot of exercises boring and find it hard to stay mentally engaged. Mixing in some ball activities into your routine can be just the touch to help keep you motivated.
If you’re not ready to invest in a ball, most gyms and residence fitness centers offer them as part of the equipment. If you give some of these exercises a try, you just might find the right exercise ball to incorporate into an in-home routine.
Best Ball Exercises for Seniors
Here are 11 exercises that use a variety of balls, although there are so many variations it feels like many more. A lot of them can be done sitting, either in a chair or on the ball itself.
Seated Ball Exercises for Seniors
These are done on a large ball, often called a stability ball, Swiss ball or yoga ball. Choose a ball that you can sit on comfortably with your knees and hips at 90 degree angles and your feet flat on the floor. If you’re concerned about balance or about slipping off, you can do these with the ball pushed against a wall or wedged into a corner.
1. Hip Circles
Hip muscles, especially the hip flexors, are key to maintaining mobility as we age. This simple exercise can help.
2. Leg Lifts
These simple exercises work the back, hips and quadriceps and give you the strength to help protect the knee.
There are many variations on this activity. For example:
Stability Ball (Swiss Ball) Exercises for Seniors
If you buy a stability ball, a minor investment at your local big box store, it comes with pictures of suggested exercises. Some require a lot of strength, balance and agility. Here are a couple that aren't too hard but give you a big bang for your effort.
3. Stability Ball Bird Dog
This exercise can be done on the hands and knees, but doing it on a Swiss ball gives it an added flavor.
This exercise comes with numerous variations.
4. Back Extensions
To work a slightly different muscle group, bend your knees in the starting position.
Small Ball Exercises for Seniors
Small ball exercises put more emphasis on strength than stretch. A small ball is about 9 inches in diameter and should be rubber or plastic. Don’t use foam; it compresses too much.
5. Thigh Squeeze
Strengthening your thighs improves your posture and eases the work of your back.
This squeeze can also be done on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
6. Wall Squishes
These work the abdominal muscles as well as the glutes and legs.
Medicine Ball Exercises for Seniors
A medicine ball is about the size of a small ball, but it’s weighted. They can be up to 25 pounds, but a lighter ball, around 4-8 pounds, is better for most seniors. Medicine ball exercises can be done with unweighted small balls as well.
8. Seated Arm Exercises
One of the best ways to use a medicine ball is to sit in a chair, hold the ball between your hands with your arms, and go through a variety of motions.
Lifts and circles can also be done standing. Or you can lie flat on your back and lift the ball from your thighs to straight overhead.
Bosu Ball Exercises for Seniors
A Bosu ball is a “half ball” or a dome that sits flat on the floor. You can sit on it, lie on it, or, with good balance, stand on it. There are Bosu exercises done with the ball side up and others with the flat side up.
9. Push Step and Lunge
Exercises like this will give you the basic feel of working with the Bosu.
There are many variations on this basic Bosu exercise.
10. Basic Stance
For a great balance exercise, just stand on the ball! Sounds easy, right? Maybe not so much.
11. Bosu Crunches
Some seniors prefer crunches on a Bosu to the traditional crunches done directly on the floor.
What Are You Waiting For? Start Having a Ball!
Don’t know where to start? Start anywhere. Even a moderate amount of exercise helps older adults maintain strength and stamina. The routines listed here are just the tip of the iceberg as far as what you can do with exercise balls. One of the joys of owning a ball is discovering all the different ways you can use it.
You might be able to start small ball exercises with something you already have around the home, such as a soccer ball or volleyball. Some medicine ball exercises can be done with any moderately heavy object. And here’s another benefit of owning a Swiss ball or stability ball: small grandchildren love to play with them when they visit!